Management by walking around (MBWA) is a concept that was popularized back in the ‘80s by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their bestseller In Search of Excellence. Steve Jobs of Apple was a master practitioner of this theory. Not only did he talk to his employees, he often took customer service calls and called customers personally when they wrote in with problems. He would also contact vendors to see how he could help them improve the supply chain.
MBWA is a practice that business owners who are experiencing rapid growth should adopt now. It is way too easy to get caught up in the trappings and responsibilities of being the boss. You can easily lose touch with your employees and how they work with your customers.
A manager’s main job consists of 1) prioritizing and standardizing how work should be completed, 2) establishing time frames for completing work, 3) providing employees with adequate tools and training, and 4) evaluating the results, adjusting, and starting over again.
MBWA works because while you are wandering around talking to your employees, you are ensuring that they are working on the right things in the right way. You can discover problems that could delay work while it is still early enough to correct them. And you make sure that your employees have everything they need to complete their work. MBWA eliminates most excuses for not completing work on time and according to procedure.
To make MBWA work you should follow these rules:
- Make MBWA a regular part of your daily routine. But don’t have a routine path where you see the same employees at the same time every day. MBWA works best if you can see what is going on when your employees are not really expecting you.
- Go by yourself. Don’t bring all of your assistants. You want to keep it casual and have a string of one-on-one conversations with your employees to uncover problems. You don’t want it to look like you are ganging up on your staff.
- Don’t play favorites. Be sure to visit all of your employees—even the janitor and the newest employees. You never know who will have an interesting idea for providing better customer service or delivering your service or product more efficiently.
- Always ask for suggestions and be sure to recognize good ideas. Ask everyone for ideas and remember that you get what you reward. If you want more good suggestions to improve your business, be sure to share the credit.
- Always answer your employees’ questions. Make sure you always give your employees an answer to their questions or problems, even if you have to get back to them later. Just as you rely on your employees, they are relying on you to provide strong leadership.
- Don’t criticize. Remember, you are on a fact-finding mission with a secondary mission of building team rapport. If you see something that needs to be addressed, try to find a more appropriate time. Of course, if you see a customer or another employee being handled in a way you find inappropriate, you should step in immediately.
- Make sure your line managers know what you are doing and also practice MBWA. It is very important that you not appear to be undercutting your managers. They need to know that if there is a problem, you will bring it to their attention. Don’t ever stop just because an employee does not like you talking to “their” employees. Give a polite reminder that, as the owner, they are all your employees, and this is your way of making sure the customer is being served to your satisfaction.